HomeSportFrom Tyson Fury, Deontay Wilder and Mike Tyson - The fiercest heavyweight...

From Tyson Fury, Deontay Wilder and Mike Tyson – The fiercest heavyweight rivalries saw savage KOs, million-dollar fines and snipers


Joe Joyce fights a rematch with Zhilei Zhang this month – but these are the fiercest ever heavyweight rivalries involving Tyson Fury, Lennox Lewis, Muhammad Ali and Mike Tyson.

Boxing is fuelled by grudge matches. And, while Zhang’s stoppage win over Joyce was fairly action-packed, two of the sport’s nice guys trading blows will never add up to a blood feud.

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Joyce and Zhang will meet again in September, but their rivalry pales into comparison when talking about fights that have gone before themCredit: Getty

Unlike these top ten heavyweight rivalries, which define boxing history. Most involve multiple fights, pre-bout insults, wars in the ring and occasional brawls outside the ropes.

In total it includes 17 heavyweight world champions, four famous trilogies and two ears being bitten. But let’s start the countdown with a tasteless T-shirt and a wounded toe.

10. Wladimir Klitschko-David Haye

One of only two one-fight rivalries on the list, but Haye spent two solid years taunting both Klitschkos. Haye’s T-shirt featuring himself standing on the decapitated bodies of the brothers, holding up their severed heads, set the tone for the build-up.

Haye called Wladimir a ‘robot’ who would ‘malfunction’ on fight night, Klitschko promised to give the mouthy Brit an attitude adjustment (of the non-John Cena variety) in the ring.

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Alas, after a spicy set-up, the 2011 fight was a bore. Haye couldn’t get into position to land his power shots and the bigger, slicker Klitschko comfortably outboxed him to unify the heavyweight belts. Afterwards, Haye blamed an injured toe.

9. Oleksandr Usyk-Anthony Joshua

Full credit to Joshua: he may be 0-2 against Usyk but at least he faced the former cruiserweight king, twice, rather than avoiding the skilful southpaw. Usyk outboxed and eventually battered an out-of-sorts AJ in Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in 2021.

Joshua and Usyk fought twice and it hurt AJ that he could not get the better of his rival in the rematch

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Joshua and Usyk fought twice and it hurt AJ that he could not get the better of his rival in the rematchCredit: Mark Robinson/Matchroom

Joshua brought more fire in their rematch, particularly in an impressive ninth round, but Usyk dug deep to dominate down the stretch and keep his world titles by split-decision.

Then things got a bit weird as a distraught AJ threw the belts out of the ring, grabbed the mic and gave an impromptu rambling speech to the crowd. It was not nice.

8. Lennox Lewis-Hasim Rahman

The original build-up to Rahman’s upset KO of a poorly-prepared Lewis in South Africa wasn’t particularly fiery but the rematch made up for it. ‘The Rock’ did his utmost to dodge bout two in 2001, which resulted in a court battle.

A lot more entertaining was the altercation in an ESPN studio which ended with the two heavyweights rolling around on the floor on live TV.

That wrestling match was a lot more competitive than the actual rematch which saw Lewis brutally knocking out Rahman in round four. “I call him ‘Has-been Rahman’ now,” crowed the newly restored world champ.

Norton beat Ali in March 1973, but lost to him later that year and again in 1976

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Norton beat Ali in March 1973, but lost to him later that year and again in 1976Credit: Getty

7. Muhammad Ali-Ken Norton

The ‘other’ Ali trilogy – but one he arguably should’ve lost overall. Norton famously broke the jaw of ‘The Greatest’ while winning a 12-round split-decision in 1973, his awkward style causing Ali problems throughout.

Ali trained harder for the rematch and won it, but their third fight in 1976 was controversial. Ali was world champion again, but – drained by age and a punishing schedule – Norton once more gave him problems. Many feel Ali was lucky to win a 15-round decision.

6. Evander Holyfield-Mike Tyson

Who knows what would have happened if ‘Iron Mike’ and ‘The Real Deal’ had met when they were supposed to in 1990, a fight scuppered by Tyson’s upset loss to Buster Douglas. By the time they got it on in 1996, the contest was billed as ‘Finally’.

The post-jail Tyson was a favourite over the older, supposedly shopworn Holyfield – but Evander withstood the early pressure and scored an 11th-round KO.

Holyfield and Tyson were at the centre of one of sport's most dramatic moments in 1997

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Holyfield and Tyson were at the centre of one of sport’s most dramatic moments in 1997Credit: AFP

The rematch is even more famous as a frustrated Tyson, enraged by Holyfield’s butting with his big bald dome, chose to bite into each of Holyfield’s ears. The result was a DQ win for Evander and a $3million fine for Mike. Remarkably, the pair are now good pals.

5. Larry Holmes-Gerry Cooney

One of the ugliest build-ups to any heavyweight title fight. Unbeaten challenger Cooney was – unwillingly – cast as ‘The Great White Hope’ as promoters played up the racial angle of the contest in 1982.

It got so tense that there were police snipers on the roof of every Vegas hotel surrounding Caesars Palace. Thankfully they weren’t needed as Holmes – who took his ring walk first despite being the champion – took his record to 40-0 by stopping Cooney in round 13.

The pair quickly became good friends afterwards, proof that the grim ‘hype’ was nothing to do with the two gutsy heavyweights who battled it out in the ring.

4. Tyson Fury-Deontay Wilder

If the scoring was as it should have been in fight one, Wilder could arguably be 0-3 in this trilogy – but that doesn’t tell the story. Fury outboxed Wilder for long periods but in their first bout but had to get off the canvas twice, most memorably in round 12, to secure a draw.

Fury and Wilder shared a controversial draw in 2018, then the Brit stopped the American in 2020 and 2021

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Fury and Wilder shared a controversial draw in 2018, then the Brit stopped the American in 2020 and 2021Credit: Frank Micelotta/FOX

Fight two saw Fury take the fight to his American foe, battering the vaunted puncher until his corner threw in the towel.

A list of surreal excuses followed and few gave Wilder any hope in fight three. But he came close to winning as an epic slug fest saw both men hit the canvas multiple times, before ‘The Gypsy King’ was victorious via knockout in the 11th.

3. Joe Louis-Max Schmeling

An upset of the American future heavyweight great occurred in 1936, when Schmeling ‘saw something’ in Louis’ style. Namely that the prospect kept his left hand too low after jabbing, a flaw the German heavyweight ruthlessly exploited.

But their 1938 rematch, a global mega-event, was entirely different. Louis, now the reigning world champion, came out all guns blazing and annihilated Schmeling in round one.

That second bout was overshadowed by the imminent world war. But Schmeling, who had a Jewish manager and later hid two Jewish boys from the Gestapo, was no Nazi. He became close friends with his rival in retirement and acted as a pallbearer at Louis’ funeral.

2. Riddick Bowe-Evander Holyfield

Easily the second-most thrilling and action-packed heavyweight trilogy. Fight one saw the naturally bigger Bowe win an absolute war, taking Holyfiend’s titles in a fight where both men were hurt but neither would submit.

Holyfield and Bowe were true rivals, who fought two tense and violent wars

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Holyfield and Bowe were true rivals, who fought two tense and violent warsCredit: Getty Images – Getty
Ali had three legendary fights with Frazier, the first of which is known as 'The Fight of the Century' at the legendary Madison Square Garden

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Ali had three legendary fights with Frazier, the first of which is known as ‘The Fight of the Century’ at the legendary Madison Square GardenCredit: Getty Images – Getty

The second was another tense, violent affair but – after the outlandish interruption by ‘fan man’ – Holyfield was this time the narrow winner. ‘The Final Chapter’ in 1995 saw Bowe knocked down for the first time in his career, but he got up to stop Holyfield in round eight.

1. Muhammad Ali-Joe Frazier

A trilogy that doesn’t just stand above heavyweight boxing, but towers above all sport as the definitive individual rivalry. Louisville’s fast, flashy, poetry-spouting Ali was a total contrast to the blue-collar ‘Smokin Joe’.

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Their 1971 contest, where both had a claim to the world title, was dubbed ‘The Fight of the Century’. Frazier became the first fighter to defeat Ali, sealing his points win with a left-hook knockdown in the final round.

Ali won a 1974 rematch but that bout was overshadowed by the rubber match a year later: ‘The Thrilla in Manilla’. The two ageing rivals fought a violent epic, won by Ali when Frazier’s trainer pulled him out before round 15, Eddie Futch telling him: ‘Son, no one will forget what you did here today.”





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